The six sequences of ADAM’s collection, part 5: The Aesthetics of Abundance

In our six-part series, we take a detailed look at the design collection housed in ADAM – Brussels Design Museum through the time-stamped sequences it uses in order to provide a more linear reading of its extensive selection, spawning mid-century innovations to current day creations. For the fifth instalment, exhibitions director Arnaud Bozzini discusses the significance of plastics as a material that continues to influence generations of artists, and how formal innovation was used in the 60’s to question the consumerist status quo.

Victor Vasarely, Kanta majus A, 1970

Plastics have had a huge impact on the artistic creativity of the sixties and since then.

The collection we bought up in December 2014 include not only design items, but also some art works. Because the use of plastic, with its aesthetic and formal qualities, has become quite commonplace, our curatorial team has decided to gather this part of the collection in our take on a cabinet de curiosité. The idea was to showcase how plastics have had a huge impact on the artistic creativity ofthe sixties and since then. Indeed, in response to the proliferation of consumer items, a number of artists in the 1960s decided to adopt plastic as their medium of manipulation. As a reaction to what they saw as the irresponsible attitude of consumerist society or as a response to the societal issues of the time, artists experimented with this concept; and readily appropriated rejects, bad taste, the vernacular, and popular culture.

Evelyne Axell, Le Peintre, 1970

 The Nouveaux réalistes Arman (1928-2005) and César (1921-1998) in particular used plastics to embark on a “thrilling adventure of the real”.

This dedicated space includes Tom Wesselmann (1931-2004), who used plastic to make ironic commentary on the aesthetics of advertising. But also, among the showcasing Nouveaux réalistes, Arman (1928-2005) and César (1921-1998) in particular used it to embark on a “thrilling adventure of the real”, far removed from conventional painting. This section shows also the part taken by Belgian artists in that field, such as Walter Leblanc or the household figure of Belgian pop art, Evelyne Axell (1935-1972). In our Cabinet de Curiosité, her self-portrait, Le Peintre (1970), can be read as a manifesto of her artistic vision: Evelyne Axell represents herself nude, brandishing a brush as an attribute.

ADAM- Brussels Design Museum’s unique permanent exhibition The Plasticarium Collection is now on display – definitely a must see.